Politics & Government

Robert Wright wants to put a casino resort in south Columbus

Columbus entrepreneur Robert Wright Jr. said Monday he would like to bring a $200 million resort casino to south Columbus if the state of Georgia legalizes gambling.

Wright is on the Tuesday Columbus Council agenda to ask councilors to pass a resolution in support of legislation that would put casino gambling up for a statewide vote in Georgia. For the matter to go to a vote, it must pass the General Assembly, where there was no appetite to even allow a vote in the House or Senate during the 2016 session.

What council is considering is part of its legislative agenda, asking the local delegation for its support for a constitutional amendment that would put it to Georgia voters.

“Basically, all we are asking them to do is give the people the right to vote,” Wright said. “That is all this resolution is about is to give people the right to vote.”

Wright said if he can clear the political and voting hurdles, he wants to bring a casino to his hometown.

“If this all passes, I intend on putting a $200 million casino resort in south Columbus,” Wright said. “I would like to see that investment in south Columbus. I am working to create 500 to 1,000 new jobs.”

Wright is not the only one addressing council at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Ralph Huling, senior pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church and president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and attorneys Teddy Reese, Stacey Jackson and Katonga Wright, who is Wright’s niece, are on the public agenda to speak about this matter.

“The resolution speaks for itself,” said Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson on Monday.

It reads: “The Columbus Consolidated Government is requesting the legislative delegation introduce and/or support legislation to authorize a referendum to allow Georgia citizens to vote as to whether they want to allow casino gaming in Georgia for the purpose of Hope Scholarship funding.”

Councilors Mimi Woodson and Evelyn Turner Pugh requested the resolution, which was discussed at a meeting last week, but no action was taken.

A lot has to happen before anyone can start playing blackjack, craps, roulette and slots in Georgia.

First it has to pass the General Assembly, signed into law by the governor. At that point, Georgia voters would decide a constitutional amendment on the issue. If it passes statewide, voters would get another say as it would be voted on locally.

“We are a long way from it,” Wright said.

One, do we want the mega casino in Atlanta; do we want one in Atlanta and another one over the coast to get the I-95 and Jacksonville traffic; or do we want four, five, six of them scattered around the state. The later would be the only way you could have a casino in Columbus.

Rep. Richard Smith, a Columbus Republican

There is not a bill in the Georgia General Assembly to move toward legalizing casino gambling. Last year, there were about a dozen bills of various sorts involving potential casino gambling. None of them got to a vote of the full House or Senate.

Rep. Richard Smith, a Columbus Republican, said there are several issues the General Assembly must wrestle with involving casino gambling similar to what is available in Las Vegas.

“There are two questions that have to be answered here,” Smith said. “First, do we want casinos in Georgia to begin with? Then, if that passes, we have to ask: What model do we want?”

There would be a number of options available, Smith said.

“One, do we want the mega casino in Atlanta; do we want one in Atlanta and another one over the coast to get the I-95 and Jacksonville traffic; or do we want four, five, six of them scattered around the state,” Smith said. “The latter would be the only way you could have a casino in Columbus.”

Councilor Judy Thomas has been doing some research on the issue since it was discussed last week.

“I have looked at the legislation that was driving this last year, and I have some real concerns,” she said. “I would prefer not to take a position on this until the legislation is dropped so we can look at it then and know what we are looking at.”

In 1985, Wright founded Dimensions International, an Alexandria, Va., company, and sold it to Honeywell in 2007. He has a home in Columbus and was a major donor to Columbus Technical College for the Robert L. Wright Health Sciences Center.

Before starting his company in the Washington area, Wright was a local optometrist who was elected to Columbus Council in 1970.

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams

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